Russian Fans Celebrated in Major New Book About Beatlemania in the Soviet Union

The people of Russia and the former Soviet Union have long had their access to Western art, culture and information suppressed and curated by the State. Just look at what’s going on in the country right now.

Consequently it’s always been hard to be a Beatle fan, especially when bans on Western popular music were actively policed and the consequences for flouting the laws could be devastating. Just take a look at this post from earlier this year. As we said then: there was a time when you had to be tough and take risks as an individual to be a fan in public. The KGB (a.k.a. the Soviet secret service and other authorities) came down very hard on anyone who dared to say they “….loved Lennon more than Lenin”.

Witness also the lengths that Beatle fans went to in order to listen to their favourite band’s music, right down to covertly cutting tracks onto old x-ray film. This became known as “music on bones” and you can check out our article on that here.

Subsequent to the fall of the Soviet Union things have become a little easier but it’s still been a relatively rocky road for Russian fans compared to those of us in the West.

Now comes a book that tries to sum up what it was like to be a Beatle fan across those years and into the solo Beatle years as well. It’s not about the Beatles themselves, but about how they were loved in the USSR. The English translation of the book’s title says it all really: How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR.

By the way, the author Dmitry Karasyuk is a totally blind man.

You should know that How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR is in Russian, and at 760 pages it is quite some undertaking. It contains many memoirs (funny and tragic) of both famous and very ordinary people. There are also many personal memories, and many, many photographs from fan archives. Almost every page has images or memorabilia related to the times. Here are just two random samples:

At the end of the book there is a short description in English. This is worth reading as its an excellent overview of the sort of information this book contains and what it is trying to achieve (click on image to see a larger version):

We mentioned how tough it was being a Beatle fan in the USSR. Here’s just one story from the book to help illustrate that – a story with a real twist in the tail:

In the early 1970s a young man buying Beatle records was detained at a flea market and taken to the local police station. There one of the police officers (police in the USSR were called militsiya) had an “educational conversation” with him (i.e. he gave him a slap on the wrist) saying that it was not good for a young builder of communism to listen to such enemy capitalist music. Later the young man happened to meet that same militsiya on the street. And the policeman asked: “If I give you a tape could you please record some Beatles music on it for me?”

Another very interesting section of How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR contains chapters about the Melodiya and Antrop companies which eventually released Beatle and solo records in the USSR – both officially, and not so officially.

The author spoke with former employees of Melodiya. They talk about how Beatle tracks finally came to appear on records in the 1970s, how Beatle and solo records were officially released in the 1980s, and where the sources for these releases came from.

The author also found Andrey Tropillo, the founder of Antrop Records, and in a long interview with him Tropillo tells how he created/launched the company, how and where he pressed vinyl, how they made alternative sleeves, and much more. And how, in the end, Antrop turned into Santa.

It’s not known whether the publisher will eventually translate the entire book into English. This, we’re told, is quite a challenge because there’s a lot of original Soviet youth slang which can’t be translated into other languages “in all its beauty”.

This love of all things Beatles endures. This young woman (whose name is Jane Enenko) is in the book. She hails from remote Siberia, and was invited on stage during a 2015 Paul McCartney tour:

We realise How We Loved the Beatles: The History of Beatlemania in the USSR is aimed at a very special market. The fact that it is written in Russian dictates that. But it is such a labour of love, and so comprehensive in it’s scope, we thought it very worthy of a mention here.

Russian-speaking fans of The Beatles living outside of Russia can buy the book from the German online store Esterum: Russian books worldwide, which is located in Frankfurt. It is also available from this online book store in the EU – in Riga, Latvia.

FYI here’s the rear cover. (Click on the link to see a larger version and to read the text – if you understand Russian!)

Tough Times Being a Beatle Fan in Soviet-era Russia

The topic of Beatles collecting and fandom in Soviet-era Russia has been explored on the web of late.

Andrey, a long-time friend of our page, alerted us to this comprehensive article recently posted (in Russian) on the beatlespress.com.ua site.

If you don’t read Cyrillic writing (and we don’t!), then Andrey has provided a link to a video in English on the very same topic:

Bottom line is that you had to be tough to be a Beatle fan in public in the late 1960’s/early 1970s. The Soviet secret service, the KGB, came down very hard on any young people who dared to say they “….loved Lennon more than Lenin”.

Their lives could – and were – turned upside down. Indeed, in the example cited where a group in the Ukraine turned out on the street to celebrate something as innocuous as Paul McCartney’s birthday, seven people were arrested and sentenced to 15 days jail for “disturbing public order”.

In addition, six were expelled from their university studies and from the Young Communist League – the latter almost certainly guaranteeing their failure in any future career. Younger high school students were forced to repeat whole years of study. There were ramifications also for their parents who were publicly humiliated in the Soviet media.

While we were pondering all this and how much we in the West take our freedoms for granted, we also stumbled upon this great video on a closely related subject. Its just been uploaded on the Parlogram Auctions YouTube Channel and is a study on how Beatle fans in the Soviet Union and behind the Iron Curtain listened to The Beatles – including the spooky “music on bones” records we’ve written about before.

Music on Bones – Hearing Beatle Music the Hard Way

One of our favourite Beatle websites is The Beatles Get Back in the USSR – mostly because it’s a treasure trove of information on every aspect of Beatle collecting in Russia, but also because it is clearly a labour of love and a remarkable resource.

The level of research, scholarship and effort that’s been put into this site is immediately obvious. Not to mention the amazing and extensive image libraries accompanying each topic written about.

If, for example, you’re interested in all the different pressings and versions of Paul McCartney’s ‘Russian album’ Choba B CCCP (first issued on the Melodiya label in 1988), then you can’t go past the site’s chapters on it here (first edition – 11 tracks), here (mispressed edition – 12 tracks), and here (second edition – 13 tracks). The depth of information is impressive.

The latest example of this sort of thorough analysis has recently been uploaded to the site. 

Web pages for a chapter called Illegal and Semi-legal Beatles Releases in the USSR are the result of more than ten years of work to find records/images/information and to analyze and describe all the content – and it tells an extraordinary tale. These illegal and semi-legal releases bear witness to the extraordinary lengths people in Cold War Russia went to hear and share western music, especially rock’n’roll, and of course – Beatle music.

Right through the 1960s, and well into the1970’s, there were practically zero officially released Beatles records issued Russia. Rock music was considered decadent and not suitable for the masses. So, the people took matters into their own hands.

Using smuggled-in originals from England and Europe, they made their own un-official copies of songs the only ways they knew how. This was done using two main processes. The first was to utilise the many small, commercial recording booths that were dotted around Russian cities and towns. These were set up to record short audio ‘postcards’ that could be sent through the post. This was, back in the day, a popular way of sending loved ones a message along with a photograph of the place or holiday location you’d been visiting. They looked something like this:The postcard/record above is like a one-sided flexidisc, with the “message” recorded onto the picture side. But this particular example contains a recording of ‘Roll Over Beethoven’! These ‘postcard’ flexies played at 78rpm and only conatined enough space for one song. Also, the quality wasn’t great – but, you got to hear The Beatles in a country that didn’t allow you to freely listen to them.

The other means of copying and distribution was through home tinkerers who set up illegal recording lathes to cut Beatle songs directly onto old medical x-rays. Yes, medical x-rays. These became known as “music on bones” or “music on ribs” – for obvious reasons:These freaky-looking x-rays above both have a Beatle song cut into them and they can be played on a turntable.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and these thick celluloid sheets of x-ray film were one of the few resources available to people in Soviet Russia at the time.

Like the postcard/records, these “music on bones” play at 78rpm, and to be honest, to our ears now they don’t sound that great. But this was the only way that anyone was going to be able to hear this type of music at the time. And don’t forget – making them and owning recordings like these could get you into big trouble with the authorities. Some ended up in prison just because they wanted to listen to rock’n’roll.  

This is fascinating history and you can spend quite a while on the site discovering a lot more about this little-known avenue of Beatle collecting. A shout out to Andrey, an old friend of beatlesblogger.com and one of the contributors to the extraordinary research that has gone into creating this online resource.

Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the front page where you’ll see a series of images. These are all links leading to the sub-chapters with many examples, more detailed information and sometimes videos of the discs actually playing.

And see below for a short documentary on the strange story of Soviet “music on bones” – gramophone grooves cut onto x-rays of skulls, ribcages and bones:

Russian Fake Beatle Records and Sleeves Exposed

If you collect Beatle discs from around the world then the Russian Beatle site beatlesvinyl.com.ua is a goldmine of information for records from that country:

Alongside their already impressive catalogue and detail about every official Beatle and solo release in that country, they’ve just added a massive new section on fake pressings and sleeves:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As usual, the detail and depth of their research and knowledge is first-rate. We’ve used it extensively to research our collection of different pressings of Paul McCartney’s Choba B CCCP for example (see here, and here).

The site is in Russian and English, and alongside all the local releases (both official and fake) it contains a comprehensive and up-to-date general catalogue of every Beatle and solo release from the UK/EU, and the US, plus a whole section on Apple Records as well.

There’s also a big section on Beatle cover versions over the years by Russian artists.

Comprehensive New Russian Beatles Books Released

We have a lot of Russian readers and so it’s appropriate to mention what looks like a very comprehensive, two-volume Beatles book published recently in Russia.

Earlier this year Vladimir Bokarev and Yury Mitrofanov released the two-volume book called ИСТОРИЯ “БИТЛЗ” В СССР (1964-1970 гг). That translates as The History of the Beatles in the USSR (1964-1970). Here’s the cover of Volume One:Том1

And here’s Volume Two:

Том2

These publications form a forensic, historical research of the Beatles as a phenomenon in Soviet society. Through examining numerous historical sources the authors show the evolution and rise of the popularity of the Beatles in the Soviet press, Beatle art in the Soviet Union (for example through their records, printed music, lyrics and translations, concert performances by other artists, films, etc.), and the influence of the Beatles on Soviet youth.

Record images and other items shown in the books come from the collections of Andrey Lukanin (Russia), and Vadim Legkokonets (Ukraine). As well there’s a wealth of information provided from these two great websites:
http://www.beatlesvinyl.com.ua/
http://beatlespress.com.ua/

To order this set of two books (published only in Russian) write to beatera@yandex.ru

The authors plan to continue the work and publish a further book on the same theme – but about the years 1971-1980.

Another Variation of McCartney’s Choba b CCCP

Another variation of Paul McCartney’s Russian album Снова в СССР has come into the collection. I found another version on Ebay which I didn’t have. It was listed by an Australian seller (so postage was relatively safe, fast and cheap). It was also at a very reasonable price and so I couldn’t resist:

Choba b CCCP frontChoba b CCCP rearChoba b CCCP

Снова в СССР is Russian for “Back in the USSR” and last time I posted on this was way back in 2010 when I detailed some of the other variations in my collection. I had five different vinyl pressings then, plus the CD edition, but there are actually almost too many variations of this LP to count. This latest one I have comes from the Aprelevka pressing plant which was just on the outskirts of Moscow. It’s the 1989, thirteen track version.

You can see all the many variations of this disc at the amazing The Beatles Get Back in the USSR website. To get to the key Снова в СССР entries go to the site’s pages detailing the original 11 track release; the more common 13 track release (which we have here); and the very rare mis-pressed 12 track release. As well as the many label variations from the different Russian pressing plants you’ll be able to explore the many cover variations in the printing of this album as well.

Kisses on the Bottom – Some Further Variations

When Paul McCartney’s “Kisses on the Bottom” CD and LP was released earlier this year we posted on all the known variations at that time.

This week I had an email from Andrey in Russia alerting me to not one, but three further variations.

They are all Russian editions of the CD version of “Kisses”:
*  A 14-track official CD in a digipack – with an official Russian Universal Music small sticker on the front,
*  A 14-track illegal or pirate CD in a jewel case (using the same cover as the EU official version) and,
*  A 16-track illegal or pirate “Deluxe” CD+DVD (of the iTunes Live concert) in a cardboard digipack.

Andrey kindly sent some great scans of the covers, so here they are. Firstly the official Russian Universal Music edition, with 14 tracks in a cardboard digipack sleeve. You can see the official sticker on the front:

Note in the small print the official Russian publication details on the back.

Next an “unofficial” or pirate version which comes in a plastic jewel case:

And finally, the other “unofficial” or pirate edition. This time it is the Deluxe 16-track version of the CD. It comes in a cardboard digipack complete with a “bonus” DVD containing the Apple iTunes launch concert of the album live from the Capitol studios in Hollywood, California. This, to my knowledge, has never been officially released in hard copy like this. (However, if you purchased the official Deluxe edition you do get a bonus digital download of the same performance):

(To see larger versions of all the covers above just click on the images)

Thanks to Russian collector Andrey for this information and the images. See also the terrific website beatlesvinyl.com.ua for comprehensive information, images and details of other USSR and Russian Beatles releases.

If you have any interesting Beatles or solo releases feel free to email us at beatlesblogger@gmail.com

UPDATE:  The very informed and accurate Wogblog site is reporting that the Capitol Studios live concert performance of “Kisses on the Bottom” will be officially released on DVD on September 7th. Thanks for that Roger. Here’s the promo poster for the DVD: